Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Today's Review

One in the hole.

Tired of the same old Beef Stroganoff with Macaroni and Cheese 2-Serving Freeze-Dried Pro-Paks? Or possibly the Turkey with Beet Bits and Eggs and Ham and Spuds? (Also freeze-dried.) You may be, if you've been eating official hiking food for a while.

Well, just because you're going out for a few days doesn't mean you have to buy expensive meals sealed in plastic. And maybe you don't want to.

For example, have you ever read what goes into one of these high-tech meals? Maybe, or like the rest of us, the only problem you ever had was finding a rock to hide the used pouch under.

So let's take a closer look at what's inside, courtesy of the fine print from a famous brand.

This instant entree of tasty food-like substances features tender beef-lookalike critter chunks jumbled with noodles, mushrooms, and a richly sour yet cream-like sauce.

Our patented Stand-Erect™ Chow-N-Go® eating pouch, made of 100% recycled nearly food-grade running shoe soles, provides a totally easy way to cook and eat your meal.

First, open the pouch, place it in a flat spot, and add boiling water. Wait three to five minutes, then crawl over and feed yourself until satiated. Just stick your head into the pouch and have at it. There's no need for fancy utensils like plates or sporks whatsoever. Pets love it too!

Ingredients: Richly-flavored cooked animal protein (includes animal flavoring and salt), mostly-natural foaming agents, milky substances, sodium phosphate, guar gum, locust bean gum, and goo). Mushroom chips, corn starch, nonfat dry milk lookalike powder, dehydrated spices, salt, beefy-flavored flavor (roasted animal and concentrated animal stock, hydrolyzed corn gluten, other dried things and yeasty extract), molasses, more spices, and additional spicy extract. Precooked noodles are made from genuine farm products. Extra salt added for flavor.

Nothing new there, but this stuff is expensive. So next time, how about you should make your own?

"Effort," you're thinking, probably. "Effort is hard and stuff." But maybe not. There are many fine meals that even you can make along the trail. All that's really necessary is a little imagination, or hunger and a pointed stick.

Today's recipe is called "Toad in the Hole", but of course you can't eat it in the hole, which is where the pointed stick comes in.

A typical, complicated "gourmet" recipe is something like the following:

Ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 sausages
  • butter or oil

Whisk the salt, egg, milk, and flour into a batter.

Roast the sausages in a small pan and remove. Toss in the butter or oil, reheat, then replace the sausages and pour in the batter.

Bake until puffy and brown all over.

See something wrong here? Yes. First, there's no toad. Second, where is the hole? And third, who carries all that stuff?

For backpackers, you have to keep it simple, and real. Real simple. In other words, take it back to basics. And we can't have any of that complicated baking.

In fact, Toad in the Hole originally started out simple. The first toad in the hole recipe didn't even call for toads, only "bits and pieces of any kind of meat", which is great, but it's easier if you aren't even that fussy.

So here is an updated recipe:

Ingredients

  • One hole-dwelling critter

Boil water. Pour into hole.

Wait 10 minutes, five if you are extra hungry.

Remove critter from hole with pointed stick.

Eat.

Get back to hiking.

Still not sure? Here is an actual published review by an actual hiker:

By Albert H., from Nashville, TN.

Comments: I've tried this meal several times on different 3-season trips.

Overall, better than the Mountain Hut Beefy Stew with Noodly Bites, and didn't make me fart so much.

This is a great way to eat on weekend backpacking trips in the Great Smoking Mountains, where there are lots of holes.

My friends laughed at first but I saved enough money on food over the summer to afford a winter vacation to Acapulco, so that's cool, because I can hang out on the beach between visits to the parasite doctor. Sometimes it's hard finding enough live burrows near well-used camp-sites, but a warm, moist meal at the end of a long day is always nice, and it's easy to prepare. The pointed stick came in handy when the weasel was only partly cooked that one time and still had lots of fight left in him, but it worked out pretty well in the end.

I was always a skeptic about that prepacked and precooked food for hikers anyways and now I have a great alternative, and it's cheap too!

Pros:

  • Easy To Prepare
  • Flavorful
  • Lightweight
  • Quick Cook Time

Cons:

  • Gave me tongue warts (when I ate a real toad).
  • Wasn't fully cooked once (but I was short on stove fuel, so my fault there).
  • I thought lizards were supposed to taste like chicken.
  • My mistake, but only the first time - I thought it said "turd in a hole". Overly chewy, but still flavorful, and I caught on pretty fast.

More:

RECIPE: Toad in the Hole

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

There Are No Stupid Questions

Only a lot of inquisitive idiots.

Q: I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada — can I take a cab on the days I don't feel like walking?

A: Sure, but backcountry cabs are all coin-operated, so bring lots of quarters — maybe a 15-pound bag to start with. You don't want to be stranded in Las Vegas without a ride, or money to play the slot machines.

Q: Is it safe to run around in the bushes?

A: If you go in a clockwise direction. (This is important.) Unless you are very experienced, then going the other way could make you dizzy, which might attract unwelcome attention from rangers, and you stand a good chance of getting cited for being "under the influence". Also, keep your pants on. Even if you aren't showing any signs of dizziness, but are running around in the bushes without pants, this may trigger a "red flag alert", during which television crews are called in, so make sure your hair is combed.

Q: So it's true what they say about backpackers?

A: Some of it, but it's hard to say which parts those might be.

Q: Are there any ATMs along the trails?

A: The ATM, or "asynchronous terror moment" may occur at any time or location, regardless of what you might be doing, hence the "asynchronous" part. Say, for example, that you are awakened in the middle of the night by a loud snap, followed by a crash, and then a deafening, wordless wail. Immediately you begin thinking that you should have spent a few moments calculating the smallest limb diameter on a douglas fir tree that could support a 350-pound (159 kg) black bear, because obviously one has just climbed up to your food bag and snapped off the limb you hung the bag from, bringing the food, the limb, and the bear back to earth, including enough injuries to instigate a blind fury incident. This is all normal, and you have been through it many times. What you don't expect next is having something heavy crash into your tent, fall on top of you (trapping you inside your mummy-shaped sleeping bag) and hearing it begin to swear with a pronounced Scottish accent, especially since you are backpacking (and camped) alone. As a side note, the ATM is also an international scientific measure of fear equivalent to about 146.959488 pounds per square inch (1,013,249.958604 pascals) of lung pressure produced during the average panicked scream. And, needless to say, when you finally do emerge from your tent to find out just exactly what is going on, everything is normal, and quiet, your food bag is still where you hung it, there is no one else in or near your camp site, but your tent is, of course, trashed.

Q: Which direction is North?

A: Whenever you go hiking or backpacking, there are certain essential things you should always carry. One of these is a map. Maps are handy because they show landmarks, topography, fast-food joints, and car washes. But that isn't all. By convention the top side of a map is defined as north, so, if you are ever confused about the finer points of compass directions, simply turn your map right side up, and peek over its top edge. You will be looking due north, and if you walk in that direction, then after some time you will return to exactly the same point that you started from, so you can't get lost either. These features have been a standard part of all maps since at least the days of ancient Greece, when Homer of Simpson laid down his 17 Cartographic Principles in 384 BCE, following a collision of two ox-drawn vehicles whose drivers became confused over the right-of-way at an intersection of six rural pathways in the southern Peloponnese. If the Greeks could figure it out, then you can too.

Q: Can I bring my monkey? I'm getting a marmoset monkey soon and was wondering if I can bring it backpacking. Any thoughts?

A: Like most things, context is important. If you plan to be hiking the Appalachian Trail, and you have a small pack that the monkey can carry, probably no one will notice. You find all kinds of people on this trail. Typically, men let their hair and beards grow, while women shave their heads. Some even hike naked, so a furry monkey carrying a pack is likely to be mistaken for a family member, possibly your son or father. If, however, your monkey is quick to anger, and delights in flinging feces at strangers during one of its hissy fits, then it may be best to bone up on your mediation skills before hitting the trail for the summer. And don't forget to carry a supply of moist antiseptic wipes — they can be really handy for rapidly defusing cleanup situations. And one more thing..."monkey butt". Monkey butt is a highly contagious disease afflicting, as you might guess, monkeys. And those who love them. If you find yourself troubled by soreness, itching, and redness that occurs "back there", or in some cases "down there" as well (especially if you are really tight with your monkey), and if the discomfort causes you to walk bowlegged like said monkey, then you may indeed have monkey butt. But if you are a backpacker you probably have these symptoms even if you hardly ever get within feces-hurling range of even one monkey. It's par for the course, as they say, along with having your own personal cloud of flies. So you might as well bring that monkey, because it can't really make things much worse.

Q: My mama did not raise her boy to sleep in no damn dirt with bugs and creepies crawling all over him. What's wrong with you people anyway, to want to go and do something like that?

A: Swift as wind. Quiet as the forest. Steady as a mountain. Conquering like fire. Able to inhale banquets. Impervious to bugs. Laughing at monkey butt. We are hikers.

Q: Do you eat stuff?

A: No. The Backpacker Code prevents the ingestion of any food for the duration of a hike. This is why most packs are so big. You might think that backpacker's packs are loaded with food, and that's why they are ginormous, but since backpackers are not allowed to eat (not only by sworn oath, but by law in most places), they need something to do while on the trail, so they bring lots of toys. Toy trucks, life-size dolls, board games, playing cards, musical instruments, firearms, medical implements, textbooks, knitting tools, you name it — anything that might relieve the boredom and take a person's mind off food gets tossed into a pack. Food porn too. Lots of that. If you pay attention at any trailside campground, you'll notice that many backpackers (especially thru-hikers who may be on the trail for months at a time) tend to retire early. You'll see them discreetly slip into their tents one at a time until the place seems deserted, but eventually you may hear the gentle rustling of a food magazine's pages being turned one after another, plus some heavy breathing. No matter how curious you might become about exactly what is going on in there, it is considered extremely rude (and may be dangerous) to disturb one of these people in the midst of their private activities. Best to observe only from a distance, or to go elsewhere and leave well enough alone.

Q: What happens if you see an animal?

A: Like all of nature, animals were placed here for our use and enjoyment. Anyone familiar with backcountry ways is also familiar with animals, and knows how to put them to good use. Take moose, for example. Moose are common everywhere, even in the very centers of cities, though most people are not aware of this. The reason is that, despite what you may have heard about the moose's aggressive nature, the creature is actually extremely secretive and shy, and able to blend into its surroundings by changing the color of its pelt at a moment's notice, and a moose, even a large one, can simply vanish from view without even moving. There is an excellent chance that you have walked right past moose all your life without even noticing them. But if you do notice a moose, be sure not to make any comments about its appearance. They are muscular but sensitive and insecure animals, and their feelings are easily bruised. The most common reaction of a moose teased about the size or shape of its nose or ears, for example, is to charge and gore its tormentor, or trample him to death, only to regret the action after it is too late to do anything about it. This is where all the nonsense about aggressiveness comes from. It's really only self-defense. A much better course of action if you do see a moose is to coo softly and talk about how inspiring it is to finally encounter a real moose and recognize it for what it is — the largest and most magnificent species of deer on earth. This is sure to get you on the moose's Christmas list, or better yet, may get you a ride on its back, as happened to Theodore Roosevelt, a man who was, you may recall, once President. It doesn't get any better than that, except for snake juggling, but you have to join a church to do that.

More:



Thread: Non Hiker Stupid Questions & Comments

Questions about the trail - Part One

2010 Winter Olympics: Crazy tourist questions

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hiker Attempting

Records are made to be ignored.

Upon hearing the news that Josh Garrett pushed off to have a poke at setting a new Pacific Crest Trail speed record on June 10, I took a nap.

I'm in training after all, and if you're in training you keep to a schedule, or otherwise it's all wasted effort.

Effort. Man, that word gets used a bunch, doesn't it? It's getting so bad that whenever I hear someone say "effort" I just start yawning. Blame it on the training, or blame it on me, but that's what happens. Maybe I'm getting older, or maybe I'm getting wiser, or just maybe I'm approaching my peak fitness -- I don't know, but it must be one of those, and I think the answer is behind door number three.

You don't get to this level without planning, and planning is what I've been doing a lot of, because it's so effective at conserving energy. You could say that planning is the better part of valor, right after running away, but running away is way too much work for the payoff it provides, so I think I'll promote planning to the number one position and forget about running entirely.

Even the thought of running makes me and slide down in my chair and reach for the remote, which is always nearby since I learned that it's never too early to catch an old movie, and it's so relaxing.

In 2011, Scott Williamson set what is apparently the current PCT record of 64 days, 11 hours and 19 minutes, or 41 miles a day (66 km). Garrett will have to shove his way past that by doing about 42 miles a day (68 km). I expect he'll exhibit a fair bit of panting behavior while he's at it, skinny vegan or not, and no doubt he'll be looking at his watch a lot. Sounds like fertile ground for whipping up a case of carpal diem syndrome, which is like tennis elbow without the little white outfit, and affects only the watch-bearing wrist as it gets stressed through increasingly frantic attempts to grab more time out of the air.

I gave up on watches decades ago, about the time I realized that working was too much work. If you get up early enough to make it in by 8:00 a.m., they expect you to look busy for hours, and all too often they want to see what they call "results", other than your satisfaction and having spent a day worth living. Well, I eventually had enough of that, and dumped both the job and the watch, at about the same time, and it was a decent decision. Now I never get out of bed before I wake up. After that, I take what comes along. And I do some backpacking.

I too am contemplating a long hike, and a record attempt of my own, if I can get organized, which is why I did the planning and what got me into this training regime. Which is to say that my record will mean spending the longest stretch of time ever on my chosen trail, going the fewest miles per day it is humanly possible to do, or less, and avoiding towns and resupply points whenever possible. And the point of all this is to find those things that cannot be found. Some things have to come to you, and you never know what they may be until you find one of them crawling into your lap, or up your pants leg, or until you happen to look up and see one of them silently flapping by with a dead rat hanging beneath it, as happened this morning, right near where I live, which I never would have seen had I been killing my life by doing something productive.

In other words, there is nothing like waiting to stimulate the mind and invite random miracles. Most things are shy. Most animals, all plants, and the vast majority of experiences, which require a proper invitation and a show of respect before they tentatively come around to introduce themselves.

Another way of saying this is that you pass by anywhere only once, no matter where it is, even if it's your own doorstep, because each and every day and exactly all parts of that day are unique in themselves and will never be the same today as they were yesterday, or the same tomorrow again, which is why, for those of us who have tried this and that and some of the other, turning off the ignition and coasting to a stop brings rewards you can't find any other way.

After a while, after a stretch of stillness, after the novelty of anticipation wears off and you start to get bored, you begin to see what is actually happening. You understand that what you thought was only a smooth and undifferentiated background is actually not that, but an infinitely rich foreground, and all that rushing around and heavy breathing and shouting that is labeled "Urgent!" is only a collection of mere intermittent distractions that flicker briefly and then diminish to a distant tinny buzz before vanishing entirely.

Good luck, Josh. May all your trails be straight and free of roots, your days sunny and cool, and may you live long enough and well enough to reach your goals, to achieve everything you are reaching for, so you have time to return when you no longer care about that, when you can wander aimlessly inside infinite time, and be startled by what you realize is looking back at you from the forest.

More:

Hiker Attempting Speed Record On Pacific Crest Trail While Raising Awareness For A Cause

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Just The Essentials

Chill, hang.

There's no need to go overboard when contemplating your next backpacking trip. A little experience and a few minutes will be enough for you to choose and pack just what you need to take.

The only problem is if you have a problem - something unexpected that might come your way.

We all know about the 10 essentials: map, compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra clothing, flashlight, first-aid supplies, fire starter, matches, knife, extra food.

Those are good. They go a long way toward evening things out, but what if you have a real emergency? Think about it. You might need a bit more to help you through it.

You can never go wrong if you throw a little parachute cord (also called "paracord" or "550 cord") into your pack.

Say you lose your boot laces. It can happen to the best of us. Got some paracord in your pack? If so, you're all set - simply hack off a bit and re-lace your boots. Once done (it takes only a few minutes) you're good to go. If you remembered to bring your knife, that is. Don't forget the knife.

Or say you're stuck in a tree, just hanging there. You could get down if you had a rope, but you don't have a rope. The solution? Unwind 50 feet or so (15+ m) of dental floss. You brought dental floss, right? So unwind 50 or so feet of dental floss, weight one end with a twig (if you can't reach a twig, take off one of your boots, or hang your keys on it), and lower that end to the ground. Be sure to keep a grip on your end though.

Then, when someone with a sturdy rope comes by, use your floss to pull the rope up the tree, tie the rope to the tree, and lower yourself to the ground using it. If the owner of the rope wants it back, he can easily climb up there and untie the knot himself. Why should you care? You did your part already.

Now the next emergency is a little trickier. Imagine that it's dark out, and you're in your tent, just about to fall asleep, when you remember you forgot to stake out the tent. Don't worry - it happens to all of us every now and then. A good clue is that the tent is flat, and you are under it, getting damp from condensation.

The best cure is mason's line. Mason's line is a thin, tightly-braided synthetic cord. It's not only very strong but very light too, so you can carry lots. If you ever forget your tent's original guylines, you'll be glad you brought plenty of mason's line.

So, the next step is just to get out there, shove some stakes in and tie them off with your mason's line. If you remembered your knife, that is. Don't forget the knife. To cut the mason's line.

And you need the stakes too. Let's hope you didn't forget those.

But what if you get up the next morning and remember that your sister's birthday is coming up? You need a couple of things to handle that. First, you need a post office. Let's hope it hasn't been closed and converted to a Hooters. Though you could try getting a job there, but first things first - you need a post office, and string. We assume you already have a gift, 'cuz how to get one is outside the scope of this blog.

Now, you wrap your sister's birthday gift, and using the string you tie the package up tight. But unfortunately, the post office no longer allows string-wrapped parcels, so maybe you should take the job instead. If you look good in one of those outfits, and have a nice butt, and so on. No idea if the pay is any good, but you can always steal snacks, or eat the food that customers leave on their plates.

OK then, another emergency comes along. This time you don't misplace your boot laces, but instead you lose your boots altogether.

For most people, this would be an utter disaster, but not for you, because you came prepared. With twine. Genuine, three-ply sisal twine, that is, which you have lots of. And your macramé skills, which you also have lots of.

At this point you probably need a "zero" day anyhow, so sit under any convenient tree and macramé up a pair of sandals. If you're good enough, you may be able to sell spare sandals to other backpackers trudging past. Since you never know, make a few extra pair and you'll be ready.

With this business, along with the tips you get at Hooters, and the food you can steal there, you might be able to make a decent living. Hey - why not? At least you won't have to do any more of that walking under a pack, and your sister, no matter how vengeful she is after not getting her birthday present, is unlikely to find you there, especially if they have a truck out back you can sleep under.

So by now you're probably thinking you're totally prepared for any and all emergencies, but that only shows that we all have lots to learn, because there's more.

You, like many other backpackers, most likely forgot about mice, though it is not too late, probably. Dealing with mice can be a real pisser, but as usual the solution lies in the realm of cordage, our two-dimensional friend, only this time it's fishing line we want.

You brought plenty, right? Better hope so.

Nope, no tiny little hooks involved. Instead we want knots, which is why you can't get your backpacking license without being proficient in knots. And today, guess what? The one knot you thought you would never need - the "Hangman's Knot" (also called "The Mousinator"), one that is best tied with 40-pound (18+ kg) test, in case it's raccoons out there and not mice.

The best line for this is ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (Dyneema or Spectra), because it's stronger than steel for a given weight, and doesn't taste good, even to mice or backpackers.

Simply put a bit of food on the end of a stick and hang a noose over it. Then go to sleep. Ignore any squeaking sounds you hear during the night, unless something is also biting your face, which is usually a bad sign. It could mean that you got some of the bait on your cheek or in your hair, in which case no knot is going to save you.

Even worse is a loud growling sound, coming at about the time that your tent collapses under a great weight. If you are lucky, a tree fell on you and you will die pretty soon. Otherwise, it's a bear. There is no cure for bears, and it tends to be a painful death, so maybe that job at Hooters wouldn't have been so bad after all.

Bears wouldn't have found you there, or your sister either, and after a while the outfit might start to feel good. Anything can happen, right? So be prepared for it.

Bye now.

More:

Essential Backpacking Gear List: Surprising Supplies You Need

Ten Essentials for a Summer Day Hike